Results tagged ‘ Lowell Spinners ’

Notebook: Silly rules

Baseball is a weird sport:

On Friday night, with runners on first and third, Miles Hamblin started running from third as Hector Rodriguez squared for a suicide squeeze. Rodriguez missed the bunt, but the ball bounced off the catcher’s glove and rolled behind the umpire and Hamblin scored standing up. Because he broke as the pitcher was throwing, according to the rules, he was credited with a steal of home, even though he would not have scored had the pitch not gotten by the catcher.

On Saturday night, with runners on first and third, Zach Johnson broke for second on the pitch. The catcher’s throw was on line but not quite in time to catch Johnson, who slid in safely just ahead of the tag. Matt Duffy attempted to score from third on the play, but the second baseman turned after trying to tag Johnson and threw home, beating Duffy to the plate by five feet. Because Duffy was caught stealing home, Johnson does not get credit for a steal of second, even though it would have been a steal if not for the event that did not affect the play at second.

Oh, Rule 10, how I missed you.

I generally agree with the cliché that says baseball is great because there is no clock, but it certainly can have its disadvantages. An 18-minute rain delay last night was followed by four innings that featured nine runs, 15 hits and eight walks; the fifth inning did not even start until about 9:00. Naturally, this happened on getaway day for Lowell and in the middle of a grueling homestand for us.

Fortunately, the second half of the game was much quicker than the first, keeping the total time (not counting the delay) under eight hours. That was due in large part to Dayan Diaz, who was electric in three innings of relief. Diaz consistently hit 94 and 95 on the radar gun and got five strikeouts against no walks, throwing 37 of 55 pitches for strikes.

A couple more scattered thoughts:

-Stats do lie, part 2: Catcher Ryan McCurdy allowed four of four runners to steal successfully last night. Bad game for him, right? Well, no. All four steal attempts came with Euris Quezada pitching. Quezada did not show a good pickoff move and was very slow to the plate, so all four runners had great jumps to beat McCurdy’s good throws. Part of that is inexperience – Quezada is a very raw 22, as he was signed at age 20 and came straight to America instead of playing in the Dominican league – and part of that is simply Quezada’s massive frame (6’6”, 240), which is not conductive to snap throws or a quick motion. McCurdy also caught Quezada’s first start and, as the ValleyCats’ best defensive catcher, may continue to play with the tall righty.

-Quezada threw only nine of 27 pitches for strikes in the first inning, which is not exactly stellar. In fairness, there were no high strikes early on last night, and no low ones either. He settled down afterward, sandwiching a spot of wildness in the third with 13/15 and 5/7 strike rates in the second and fourth innings.

-Three Johnsons were in the game last night: Neiko at short, Zach at first and Matty in left for Lowell. I was hoping for (M.) Johnson to ground out, (N.) Johnson to (Z.) Johnson, but sadly, that never happened.

-The ‘Cats aren’t taking batting practice before today’s game, and it sure doesn’t seem like they need it – Tri-City is atop the NYPL in all three triple-slash categories (.275/.380/.387) and leads the league with 52 runs scored despite playing one fewer game than many teams.

Back at it tonight for game four of six, as the Connecticut Tigers come to town with quite a few familiar faces on their roster. Listen live on your iPhone/Droid or online.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Hit parade

Manager Stubby Clapp, on last night’s victory:

“It’d be nice to put up 14 hits every day. We’d win a lot of ballgames.”

Of course, 14 hits don’t quite guarantee a victory, as the Lowell Spinners found out last night. The visitors matched the Cats’ hit total but committed four errors, including three in a costly fifth inning, as the ValleyCats jumped above .500 for the first time with a 12-8 victory.

I thought Zach Johnson summed up the crazy game pretty well in his first response after the game, saying, “We got down early, came back, got back down, came back and then we pushed through at the end with some extra runs … it was a good win.”

Both teams hit 14-for-39, a .359 clip, despite what looked like a very wide strike zone. Between well-hit line drives, soft shots that found holes and bad plays, lots of runners reached base – neither defense converted even half of the balls in play into outs (Tri-City was 13/28, Lowell 15/32).

We’ll likely be playing in similar conditions tonight. Rain fell heavily about an hour before the game and will slightly delay the start, and there is a small front of light storms that is scheduled to pass through during the game. As a getaway day for Lowell, the visitors probably hope for more outs and a quicker game than last night’s season-long 2:59.

A few more thoughts:

-Who leads the NYPL in runs scored right now? I posed this question to Erik and Dave this morning, and even after they figured out that it was a ValleyCat, it still took six or seven guesses for them to correctly identify Brandon Meredith. I was shocked when I saw him atop the leaderboard, but his eight runs are best in the league. He’s only hitting .227 and has usually been in the lower half of the lineup, but he’s drawn seven hits in as many games and the ‘Cats have been productive behind him.

-Starter Jonas Dufek just didn’t have a good night. He wasn’t wild, not walking anyone until the final batter and going to three balls only once (in a ten-pitch at-bat), but his secondary stuff wasn’t particularly sharp and he missed a couple spots. Balls in the air will eventually kill you in this park, especially when the wind blows out – though there wasn’t much doubt about either homer – and he should be better in his next start.

-Have I mentioned yet that Drew Muren has a good arm? He chased a line drive to the right-field wall, maybe 20 feet from the line in the corner, and didn’t pick it up very cleanly, but still was able to gun down Travis Shaw at second base. The throw was right on a line, didn’t bounce and hit Hector Rodriguez perfectly to get the out by a step.

-I may have missed a pitch, but I had Travis Smink with 17 strikes and zero balls in two innings.

-One day after being pinch-hit for in the ninth inning, Joantoni Garcia pinch-hit for Roberto Ramos in the eighth. Ramos was 2-for-3 on the night, though both hits were bunt singles; I suppose Lowell didn’t think he could get away with a third. Garcia hit into an inning-ending double play – on a beautiful turn at short by Rodriguez – so the Spinners might have been better off with Ramos’s speed.

-Matt Duffy scored from first on a double in the third inning, which probably won’t happen very often. He was running on the 3-2 pitch (with two outs) and Miles Hamblin hit a perfectly-placed grounder that rolled all the way to the right-field wall.

-The ‘Cats hit three triples in the game, as Kellen Kiilsgaard, Johnson and Meredith each had three-baggers. That was the first three-triple game for Tri-City going back to 2005, the earliest year for which we have easily-accessible stats.

-Duffy, by the way, was 4-for-5 and leads the league with a .483 batting average, keeping the tradition of success for Houston’s 20th-round draft picks alive and well.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: K-fest

The ValleyCats, as most winning teams do, got 27 outs on Thursday night. Unlike in most games, though, Tri-City’s fielders had little to do with that. The home team earned 16 strikeouts* while walking only three batters and evened their record with a 3-2 victory.

*Three more batters were put out 1-3, meaning the seven players in the field combined to make only eight plays on batted balls.

Nine of those K’s came from starter Juri Perez, who was lights-out in his five innings. Perez commanded his fastball well early on, throwing it 90-91 with good run into a righty’s hands and getting a few strikeouts with it, and often went to a high-70’s changeup as his out pitch.

Perez allowed two hits – a soft grounder through the left side and a line drive back up the box – and generated soft contact on his other balls in play, getting five of his six outs on grounders.

In his Opening Day start, Perez lost his command after four innings, eventually leading to a four-run rally that broke open the game. It looked like we might be headed for a repeat performance in the fourth inning of last night’s game, as Perez issued a one-out walk to Garin Cecchini, started the next batter with two balls and then fell behind Boss Monaroa 3-0, missing many fastballs badly. But Perez simply switched to his best pitch of the night, throwing three consecutive changeups to strike Monaroa out looking and end the inning.

But despite Perez’s performance and seven strikeouts from three other pitchers, the ValleyCats still entered the bottom of the eighth in a 2-2 tie, after the Spinners struck twice off Brad James in the top of the inning. Center fielder Justin Gominsky went the other way with the first pitch he saw, lifting a soft line drive over the first baseman’s head and a couple feet to the fair side of the chalk. Gominsky sprinted into second, beating the throw from shallow right field for a leadoff double.

“It’s always fair until it’s foul,” he said, pronouncing “foul” with a trademark Minnesotan accent (sounding more like “fall”). “I was running it out whether it was foul or not.”

Drew Muren reached on a perfectly-placed bunt single, putting runners on the corners with no outs for NYPL hits leader Matt Duffy. Duffy hit a grounder to shortstop Jose Garcia’s left; he took a look at Gominsky, who stopped, then flipped to second. Gominsky broke for home, the second baseman threw to first and completed the double play but allowed the game-winning run to score.

The perfect play would have been to get the out at second and then throw home; Gominsky is fast, but because he hesitated to watch the play unfold, a throw home from second probably would have had him out. But that’s a difficult and unnatural play to make; in hindsight, the Spinners probably wish they had played the infield all the way in, allowing Garcia to look Gominsky back and then throw out Duffy at first.

The quickest game of the year was finished in two hours, 27 minutes, but many of us were a bit surprised that it even started. Heavy rain fell overnight and in the morning, and lighter drops showered the field throughout the day, but the clouds cleared about 90 minutes before game time and held off throughout the evening.

More thoughts from the notebook:

-The Spinners started a few familiar faces, including the memorable double-play tandem of Jose Garcia and Joantoni Garcia, confusing broadcasters since 2010*. The team added a third J. Garcia over the winter, pitcher Jason. None are related to each other, however; they hail from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the Bronx, respectively, meaning Lowell only needs one from Cuba or somewhere to hit for the J. Garcia cycle.

*Lowell also has two Monaroas – first baseman Boss and outfielder Moko – brothers from Australia who were signed as international free agents in 2008. This is definitely the league’s most interesting roster to read.

-Fun fact: if Lowell left fielder Seth Schwindenhammer ever reaches the majors, he’ll have the longest name of anyone to wear an MLB jersey, breaking Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s record by one letter. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though; ‘Hammer’ is 3-for-20 with 13 strikeouts in his second time through the NYPL.

-Last night was not exactly an offensive showcase. The two teams combined for 25 strikeouts and just 11 hits, two of which were bunt singles (Muren’s in the eighth and Gominsky’s, which stopped atop the third-base chalk, in the third).

-Officially, catcher Miles Hamblin has one professional stolen base, a successful steal of home. The full story is a lot less exciting, however – Hector Rodriguez attempted a suicide squeeze with Hamblin on third in the seventh inning and missed, but the catcher could not cleanly handle the pitch. According to the literal interpretation of the lovely Rule 10, if a runner starts towards the next base on the pitch and the play would ordinarily be ruled a wild pitch or passed ball, it goes down as a stolen base, with no exceptions for a play at the plate. It was a confusing play even in real time, as most of us thought Rodriguez had fouled the pitch back and Hamblin would be sent back.

-The Cats’ 16 strikeouts is a league-high for a nine-inning game this season. Staten Island, remarkably, has struck out 17 in each of its past two games, but both went to extras.

-Reason #136,251 why the win statistic is flawed: Brad James got the win on Thursday for being the game’s least effective pitcher, blowing a 2-0 lead in the eighth but watching his offense score in the bottom of the inning. Wins are a bad tool for evaluating starting pitchers, for reasons that have been well-discussed by now, but for relievers they are completely useless.

If you’re reading this while locked inside a windowless room with no means of escape, then I suppose you have an excuse for not being at the ballpark for tonight’s game, but you can still listen live online. Jonas Dufek vs. Raynel Velette, first pitch at 7:00.

Walk-off Notebook

6,130 fans were on hand to see Friday night’s game – the fourth-largest crowd ever at The Joe – and they saw the most exciting contest there this season. The ValleyCats fell into a 5-1 hole and seemed headed for another disappointing loss, but Adam Bailey’s seventh-inning grand slam tied the game. Lowell scored in the ninth to force extras, where the ‘Cats have had bad luck this season – 1-6 in those games entering Friday – but Dan Adamson hit a no-doubt, walk-off homer to left-center, giving the ‘Cats a dramatic 7-6 victory.

Adamson certainly strikes out a lot – his 44 whiffs lead the team – but he has been arguably the most productive ValleyCat, pacing them with a .828 OPS. (The team OPS rankings are pretty ridiculous right now, by the way; Adamson is only one-thousandth ahead of Tyler Burnett and Ben Heath, who are each at .827.) Last night’s walk-off was certainly his biggest hit of the season. Adamson said afterward he didn’t know if it was gone right away – he put his head down and ran hard to first – but everyone else sure did. Bailey, in the on-deck circle, threw his bat and began celebrating as soon as the ball left the bat.

Bailey made a great play to end the top of the inning. Speedy centerfielder Felix Sanchez drew a one-out walk and tried to tag on a long foul ball by Jose Garcia, but Bailey fired a from right field to nail Sanchez at second.

Aside from a pair of late walks to Sanchez – one which came back to hurt, one which didn’t – the Tri-City bullpen came up big. Jason Chowning allowed two runs plus on einherited but fanned four in 2.2 innings. The enigmatic Murillo Gouvea had his second strong outing in a row, scattering two hits amidst four strikeouts in two frames. Closer Jorge De Leon did not allow a hit in his two innings of work, and Brandt Walker earned the win with a scoreless eleventh.

The Spinners’ only run in the final six innings came in the ninth. Sanchez earned a walk off De Leon, and when I say “earned” I mean it, as he fouled off six to keep a 12-pitch at-bat alive. Sanchez was bunted over to second and took third when catcher Buck Afenir got crossed up on a pitch. With the infield in, Kolbrin Vitek hit a two-hopper at shortstop Oscar Figueroa, but Sanchez’s speed forced a wide throw home.

It was a shame to see the game turn on a Figueroa error, because the shortstop otherwise played brilliantly in this series. He made a great play in the second inning, ranging far up the middle to grab a Joantoni Garcia grounder and making the throw to first. He also showed great range to his right, getting a couple balls that seemed sure to get through the third-base hole, but each time the batter was too fast to make a play.

Figueroa also had a great pick and tag in the first inning to nail Sanchez on a steal attempt. Afenir made a great throw on the play and Andrew Robinson did a good job of holding on Sanchez, who leads the NYPL with 18 steals. Afenir also threw out David Renfroe trying to take second in the eighth.

Robinson was making his first professional start – and his first in 15 months, as he was a spot starter at Georgia Tech in 2009 and a full-time reliever in 2010 – and seemed a little off his game. The righty came into Friday with the best walk rate in the NYPL, but had some control issues against Lowell. He only issued one walk – and that came only when Brandon Jacobs worked a nine-pitch at-bat in the fourth – but worked into a lot of hitters’ counts, falling behind five of the first seven Spinners. Both runs he allowed in the second were unearned, although the first reached base when Robinson failed to corral a soft grounder.

Lowell starter Madison Younginer, a highly-touted 2009 draft pick, has a very unconventional delivery, bringing the ball back behind his body to knee-level and slinging it above his head. It hasn’t worked very well for him so far this year – 7.78 ERA, 18 BB and 18 SO entering Friday – but the ValleyCats had trouble with it. Adamson doubled in the second, leading to the first run of the game, but Burnett picked up the only other hit off the righty.

The ‘Cats had much more success against the Lowell bullpen. Tyler Burnett led off the seventh with a single off Charle Rosario, Mike Kvasnicka drew a walk and Afenir singled up the middle, loading the bases. Adamson fanned, but Bailey delivered the team’s first grand slam of the season. It was his third longball of 2010 and his second hit to clear the second fence in right field, landing just behind the CSEA sign beyond the foul pole.

Burnett went 3-for-4 and extended his hit streak to 10 games, and again got things started in the eighth. Tyler Lockwood sent both Wilton Infante and Kik&eacute Hernandez down swinging with breaking balls in the dirt, but Burnett singled to right and Kvasnicka followed with another walk. Afenir singled up the middle yet again, and Sanchez’s throw was much too soft to catch Burnett at the plate.

Lowell righty Roman Mendez was traded to the Texas organization today as part of a package that sent Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston. The ValleyCats wish the teams had pulled the trigger a couple days earlier, as Mendez threw well and earned the victory on Thursday. Mendez gave up a homer to Ben Heath and a fourth-inning run but was impressive, sitting around 97 mph with the ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun.

Alex Sogard made his second start of the season on Thursday. He threw a lot of curveballs, even to righties, and had a lot of success with his pitch, using it to strike out the side in the second. Unfortunately, the Spinners jumped all over his fastball, tagging the lefty for eight runs in 2+ innings. Kolbrin Vitek made the third out in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd innings for Lowell, which sent nine batters in each of the latter two innings.

The ValleyCats’ bullpen came up big, holding the Spinners no runs and only one hit – a Vitek dribbler past the pitcher – over the final six innings. But the damage was already done. Adamson made a terrific catch on a deep Bryce Brentz fly in the fourth, going way back to catch a ball over his head; Jacobs was so surprised to see the ball caught that he could not score from third base, even though Adamson was nearly 400 feet from home.

Brentz has strugggled all season to the tune of a .178 batting average, but had a terrific Thursday at the plate. The right fielder went 2-for-4 and could have had four hits; Adamson robbed him of one (and Jacobs of a sac fly), and he hit a sharp liner right at Wilton Infante in left field in the ninth. Brentz walked once, doubled and drove in two.

Had Lowell held on to win on Friday and take two of three from the ValleyCats, it would have been the first time the Spinners won a series all season.

Tri-City plays three games this weekend at Connecticut, including a Saturday doubleheader. Reliever John Frawley was sent up from Greenville to help add some pitching depth for the rough stretch.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Going Green

Last night was our annual “Going Green” celebration here at Joe Bruno Stadium, where the park was environment-themed. Elliot Travis has more:

We also had a special seventh-inning stretch, featuring “Take Me Out to the Green Game,” written by our e-friend Mike Tauser. Mike is the man behind Farmstros and the creator of the incredibly creative “Quest for 3,000 Syllables”. He is tweeting 3,000 syllables about the Houston farm system in 2010, in haiku form – which works out to 177 haikus for the summer. Previous haikus about the ValleyCats include:

Talk about control
Just two walks by Quevedo
He has started six

And from last night:

Valley Cats go green
Do their part for the planet
Win the game as well

You can read all 2,278 and counting of Mike’s syllables here.

The ValleyCats won their third consecutive game, the first time this season they have had a three-game win streak. Lowell has not exactly been the toughest opponent this season and four of the ‘Cats’ five runs were unearned, but make no mistake, they deserved to win this game.

Tri-City committed a pair of its own errors but also had some great defensive plays. Kik&eacute Hernandez had the play of the night, when he made a sliding forehand deep in the outfield grass and threw to first to get Bryce Brentz by a step. Hernandez started the play near his regular position, but by the time he reached the ball he was about where the second baseman plays on an overshift, 15-20 feet beyond the infield dirt.

Shortstop Oscar Figueroa made a great snag of a ball to his right, and if the runner had been anybody but the speedy Felix Sanchez he would have gotten an out. Ben Orloff made two nice plays ranging to his left at third base, and Ben Heath made a pair of good throws to second; the first was too late to catch Sanchez, although the play was closer than any of us expected, and the second nailed James Kang on a steal attempt.

Jake Buchanan was easily the best I’ve seen from him, and he’s now had two consecutive strong starts (5+ IP, 1 ER in each). Both Buchanan and manager Jim Pankovits attributed his success to an aggressive approach; the righty did not walk a batter all game, and only once reached a three-ball count. He fanned five Spinners, going up the ladder with a couple fastballs and getting others with nice curves. (We have been having radar gun issues, so I don’t have velocities.)

And the ‘Cats hit. The hosts picked up 11 safeties, and had lots of chances to score. They only scored one run in the second despite racking up four hits; a double play grounder limited the damage. And in the sixth, Tyler Burnett appeared to score from third on a grounder off the bat of Mike Kvasnicka, but he was called out at home. I thought Burnett beat the tag, as did most everybody else in the press box; Burnett agreed after the game.

Although Burnett hits quite a few balls to the gaps, I doubt he’ll get another triple – the first baseman is not the slowest player on the team, but far from the fastest. His three-bagger yesterday came as sort of a fluke – Brentz dove after a popup down the line and landed hard as the ball rolled fifty feet or so away from him.

Kvasnicka had two hits, including a double, continuing to stay hot and extending his hit streak to nine games. Afenir, Hernandez and Burnett each have now hit safely in eight consecutive games.

Brandt Walker, coincidentally, issued the game’s only two walks, and Brentz scored the tying run after doubling in the seventh. But the ‘Cats got it right back and more, scoring three runs in their half of the inning on three hits and a misplayed bunt.

Mike Ness made things interesting in the ninth inning, loading the bases and putting the tying run on, but held on for the two-inning save. Ness fanned four, freezing a pair of Spinners in the final frame on pitches that might have been a couple inches off the plate. Ness now leads the team with four saves.

The ‘Cats look to keep the hot streak going with two more home games against Lowell, who fell to a league-worst 8-31.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Toaster trouble

As fans were filing into Joe Bruno Stadium about an hour before Sunday’s game, there was an awful stench coming from the concourse. It did not take long to locate the source of the chaos: someone in the home clubhouse had left a piece of bread burning in the toaster.

Apparently, this is not the first time that the ValleyCats have struggled with a toaster. Earlier this season, corner infielder Tyler Burnett had a similar toaster-related mishap in the players’ dorms at RPI, setting off the fire alarms in the wee hours of the morning.

As much trouble as the ValleyCats have had figuring out kitchen appliances, it pales in comparison to the difficulty they have had figuring out Lowell pitchers. Aside from the unbelievably wild Randy Consuegra, the Spinners pitchers have had tremendous success against Tri-City.

The line so far for Lowell pitchers, sans Consuegra, against the ValleyCats:

34.2 IP, 19 H, 35 SO, 14 BB, 3 ER, 0.78 ERA, .156 BAA

Right from the start, it was clear that yesterday would be tough for the Tri-City offense. Lefty Hunter Cervenka dialed it up as high as 94 mph and hit every one of his spots early on. He was perfect with five strikeouts through the first two innings, needing only 23 pitches to make the home team hitters look foolish. Cervenka got a little looser with his command in the third and the ‘Cats made him pay, taking advantage of a walk, a hit batsman and an error to tie the game at 1-1, but still could not hit balls hard.

Cervenka took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when veteran first baseman Nick Stanley broke up the bid with a one-out single after fighting through an eight-pitch at-bat. Stanley’s safety was not particularly well-hit – a Texas Leaguer to the opposite field – but it fell in the right place. The hard-throwing lefty was then removed from the game, as he had already reached surpassed his limit with 72 pitches.

“[Cervenka’s] command was real good,” Ben Heath said. “He pitched against us over at Lowell, and he was also really good there.”

“I don’t know what it is with that kid, but we didn’t swing the bats well against him over there,” manager Jim Pankovits said of Cervenka. “Lowell is kind of a strange team – [tonight it was] a different team than you saw last night, that’s for sure.”

Reliever Stephen Fox was just as effective. The righty only reached the high 80s with his fastball, but went to his 75-77 curveball early and often, keeping Tri-City hitters off-balance. Fox retired the first ten hitters he faced, and the first hit he allowed was similarly soft: Dan Adamson hit a grounder to first and beat the pitcher to the bag for an infield single.

The only well-struck base hit the ValleyCats had all game came in the ninth inning, when Heath lined an 0-1 slider over the Tri-City bullpen in left. The catcher leads the team with a pair of longballs, both ninth-inning blasts.

Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Tri-City starter Jake Buchanan threw very well. Pankovits said after the game that Buchanan isn’t yet where he’d like to be, and that’s undoubtedly true in terms of stamina – he was pulled after three innings and 50 pitches. But I was very impressed with the righty’s performance last night.

Buchanan was sitting 88-89 with his fastball, but hitters were still swinging late often, possibly out of respect for his changeup and curveball. He had good run to the arm side as well; shortstop Oscar Figueroa was the main beneficiary of this, picking up three 6-3 assists in the first two innings.

The eighth-round draft pick out of NC State did walk two hitters, but it wasn’t as if he showed a complete lack of control – he issued a bases-empty walk to Kolbrin Vitek in the first on a full count, and Nick Robinson worked an 11-pitch walk in the third inning. Robinson’s would prove more critical when Felix Sanchez followed with a line drive single up the middle – the first hit of the game – and Buchanan hit Jose Garcia on a 2-2 couint, loading the bases. Vitek hit into a fielder’s choice at short, but it was too slow to complete the double play and Robinson scored.

Chris Blazek came on for the fourth, and was brilliant as usual, consistently at 88 mph with his fastball. He did allow his second hit of the season, but it was a lazy fly ball to left that could have been caught if Renzo Tello had made a better read on it. Blazek retired the next two hitters in order, throwing a dirty 79-mph changeup to send David Renfroe down swinging. His season line: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 SO.

Blazek is too good for this level. But don’t tell that to anyone in the Houston front office, because I really enjoy watching him pitch.

It was the other Tri-City relievers who uncharacteristically struggled. David Martinez came into the game with a perfect ERA in 6.2 innings, but the Lowell ofefnse woke against him immediately. Felix Sanchez reached on a one-out bunt single – his second of the two-game series – and stole second base; Jose Garcia advanced him 90 feet with a line drive to left. Martinez got Kolbrin Vitek to fly out to shallow right field and could have been out of the inning, but while Adam Bailey’s throw was in plenty of time to catch the speedy Sanchez, it was too far up the third-base line for Heath to make the tag. Two more line-drive hits, the last a shot to the center-field wall by Brandon Jacobs, and the Spinners had a 4-1 lead.

Martinez had a strong second inning, but the meat of the Lowell lineup feasted on Brendan Stines. Garcia hit a line drive into the Lowell bullpen, and Vitek and Miles Head followed with base hits, tacking on two more runs.

Brandt Walker came on to finish the game. His line wasn’t pretty – five hits and a run in two innings – but I would not worry much about the five hits – they were all singles and each one was a grounder that found a hole. The four outs in play off Walker were also ground balls. When you can hit 92-93 like Walker can (and he flashed a nice curve to fan Garcia) with that kind of sink, you’re usually going to have success as a pitcher. Walker did issue a four-pitch walk to Vitek and a five-pitch free pass to Robinson, each of which loaded the bases.

The box score shows a poor game for Heath defensively, as he fielded the bunt single and allowed stolen bases to Sanchez and Vitek. But although I’ve been critical of Heath’s defense before, that wasn’t the problem last night: Sanchez is fast as hell, his bunt was perfectly placed, Vitek stole on a breaking ball and both runners got good jumps off the pitcher. I’ll continue to keep an eye on him behind the plate as the season progresses, but I have no complaints from last night.

I got a chance yesterday to talk with Heath about making the transition to pro ball as a catcher:

Anytime you have a new staff, it’s an adjustment. But it’s also exciting to catch guys who have really good stuff. A lot of guys here throw heavy sinkers – a lot of times, you see a guy throwing 88-90 and think it’s not huge velocity, but if he has sink on the ball, you can’t really tell from the side. It’s definitely a different level than college. But we have a great pitching staff, and it’s fun to catch.

A couple other news items from the weekend:

The 19th overall draft pick, Mike Foltynewicz, made his debut for the Greenville Astros on Saturday. He threw one inning, allowing a hit but erasing the runner with a pickoff. He will be in rookie ball all season, according to reports, so he will not be a ValleyCat in 2010.

And we have reports that third-round pick Austin Wates will sign with Houston soon. Houston will reportedly try Wates out at second base. Given the similarities between Wates and Mike Kvasnicka – advanced bats with positional questions – I would have to think there’s a good chance he comes to Troy. If he does, Wates could be an impact bat for the ValleyCats right away – something it looks like this team could use.

(Update: apparently that report was false.)

Kevin Whitaker

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